The RTC Interview Series: AAC Preview with Dom Amore and Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with two AAC experts in Hartford Courant reporter Dom Amore and Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Jason Smith. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

amoresmith

A Couple of AAC Reporters Share Their Preseason Insights With Us

Rush the Court: Even with the departures of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng from last season’s national championship team, Louisville is still highly ranked and viewed as a contender for another national title. In the past few weeks, news broke that starting forward Chane Behanan is suspended indefinitely. How will Behanan’s banishment affect Louisville in the conference race and what impact will it have on the team when looking at the national landscape?

Dom Amore: Chane Behanan is obviously one of the best players on the team. Along with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell, he is one of the reasons that Louisville is ranked as high as it is. With the way that Rick Pitino has recruited, though, there are a lot of great players on that team, so it is going to have some depth. Due to that depth, Louisville is going to be able to handle Behanan’s suspension better than most teams would. Still, experience is going to be a huge factor in this league, and Behanan has a lot of that. Losing a guy as good as Chane Behanan and with the experience of Chane Behanan is going to be a problem, but with Louisville’s depth and amount of talent, it should be able to weather the storm until Behanan is able to return.

Jason Smith: I think it all comes down to how long Rick Pitino decides to hold Chane Behanan out for. It sounds to me that Behanan is going to be back. Everything you read says he is doing the right things to get back on the team. I expect him to be back at least by the time conference play begins. You add Behanan to the group Louisville already has with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell, and you see why Louisville is so highly ranked. Louisville is also adding Chris Jones, who is the reigning national junior college player of the year. Jones and Russ Smith are going to make quite the formidable backcourt. This team is clearly the favorite in the conference and is definitely among the contenders for the national title. There will still be some challenges. It is going to have to figure out who is going to be the big rebounder. Losing Gorgui Dieng created a hole in the frontcourt, so some things still have to be figured out. Still, top-to-bottom, you can see why Louisville is considered one of the best teams in the country.

RTC: Josh Pastner probably has his most talented team since has been the head coach at Memphis. What do you expect from the Tigers in their first season away from Conference USA?

Amore: It is really a great thing for Memphis to be in this conference. There are other teams in this conference – namely, Connecticut and Cincinnati – that might not be too thrilled to be in it. For Memphis, this is a huge and a great step up in class. Memphis won 27 games in a row to finish its tenure in Conference USA. While it really dominated that conference, Memphis has not really been rewarded with high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Being in this conference where it will play Louisville, Connecticut, and Cincinnati twice will really help with its RPI and those other things that are looked at when determining NCAA Tournament seeding. It is going to be a bigger challenge for Memphis, but it does have a lot of talent and it should be able to do more with that talent in the new league.

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AAC Team Previews: Houston Cougars

Posted by Ross Schulz on October 28th, 2013

Long removed from the glory days of Phi Slama Jama, many Houston Cougars fans would settle for a return to the consistently competitive yet mediocre days of Tom Penders. In six seasons from 2004-10, Penders never had a losing record and played in some sort of postseason tournament in five of those years. After three seasons since at the helm, James Dickey has recorded just one winning season. The good news for everyone is that season was last year and so those around the program have reason to believe things are headed back in the right direction.

Houston Hopes Year Four Shows Continued Improvement

Houston Hopes Year Four Shows Continued Improvement

Plus, this could be the most-talented team Houston has had in quite some time with a strong nucleus returning from a year ago, led by junior forward TaShawn Thomas, a second team preseason all-AAC selection, and sophomore guard Danuel House, C-USA Freshman of the Year last season. Another contributing returnee is sophomore guard Jherrod Stiggers. Dickey also hopes to have the services of J.J. Richardson, who missed significant action last season with a foot injury. Impact newcomers are Baylor transfer L.J. Rose and Danrad (Chicken) Knowles, a 2012 recruit who sat out last year. Knowles was a late bloomer with the frame to grow to become a legitimate star and potential NBA player. Thomas, Rose and Knowles played AAU basketball together and hope to carry that chemistry over to the collegiate level. Other returning Cougars include Leon Gibson (6.3 PPG), J.J. Thompson (6.0 PPG), Tione Womack (2.7 PPG), Brandon Morris (2.6 PPG), Mikhail McLean (2.4 PPG), LeRon Barnes (2.1 PPG) and Valentine Izundu (2 PPG).

The bad news is the competition heats up a notch with the move from Conference USA to the AAC. While the conference serves as only a stopgap for Louisville and Rutgers, it offers an upgrade for the likes of Houston and Memphis. Gone are the days when the only strong RPI and resume-building match-ups had to come in the non-conference slate or against (maybe) Memphis. This winter Houston will have home-and-home contests with Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis and Cincinnati, all teams with at minimum Top 25 and NCAA Tournament aspirations.

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American Athletic Conference Offseason Capsules

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 15th, 2013

We are a little less than a month away from the start of another college basketball season and as teams start to get in to the swing of things, we here at the AAC microsite will be doing the same things. The offseason in college basketball can be a tedious stream of coaching changes, arrests, transfers, recruiting, and injury news. But it is still an important part of the game and since we know you have had better things to do than sit at home and track the minutiae of each AAC team’s offseason, we figured we would do it for you as the perfect way to launch our coverage for this season. Look for a full conference preview in the next week as well as the standard Morning Fives, some other fun coverage, and maybe even a new writer or two, who knows. 

Louisville

When your team is fresh off a National Championship and looking like a legitimate candidate to repeat, the last thing you want as a coach is an offseason full of distractions. Luckily for coach Rick Pitino, the distractions and bad news have been very limited this summer. Tragedy struck as Luke Hancock learned he lost his father to cancer while trying out for USA Basketball in Colorado and there was a late-summer scare over a knee injury suffered by Montrezl Harrell which turned out to be much ado about nothing. But the team also got to visit the White House in July, learned that guard Kevin Ware hadn’t been secretly suspended over the summer and has now been cleared for practice.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

In fact, the most controversy surrounding Louisville from the offseason came when a pair of Boston radio hosts hung up on Pitino during a promotional interview after telling him that, “he ruined the Celtics.” Hilarious stuff, really. Pitino also gave a struggling assistant coach a job in the coolest way possible. Put it this way, if you are Pitino and the worst press of the offseason is that you were hung up on early during a promotional interview, you can live with that. The bottom line is that the Cardinals are loaded with talent and could be insanely deep if Ware makes it back to the court quicker than expected.

Connecticut

If it wasn’t for forward Tyler Olander’s DUI idiocy and suspension, it would have been a nice, quiet offseason for coach Kevin Ollie and his Huskies – especially when compared with previous offseasons. But the DUI charges against Olander have since been dropped and the forward has been reinstated, which is a huge boon to team with major frontcourt issues. Also, freshman guard Terrence Samuel cleared up eligibility concerns over the summer, adding more depth to an already loaded backcourt. The only remaining question is whether another key freshman, Kentan Facey, will be cleared to play with the team as he deals with eligibility concerns stemming from his time at a high school in Jamaica. The 6’9″ Facey is a prized recruit and will be an important frontcourt contributor if he is cleared to play. The Huskies look poised to quickly return to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Cincinnati

As far as interesting news goes, there is no team in the conference that has had a quieter offseason than the Bearcats. The offseason started with a bang when senior guard Sean Kilpatrick announced he would return for his senior season, but since then, it’s been all crickets. I guess you could count gangly forward Justin Jackson putting on 20 pounds or highly-touted 2014 recruit Qadri Moore’s commitment to the Bearcats big news, but that would be stretching the definition. In some cases the lack of news might not be such a good thing, but coach Mick Cronin still needs to break in a new starting point guard and find anyone who can be a legitimate anchor in the post, so Cronin has probably welcomed an offseason without distractions of either kind. Kilpatrick’s return makes life a bit easier for Cronin and the team has plenty of athleticism, but points will be hard to come by and rebounds may be harder to come by still.

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2012

Ryan Peters is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can find him on Twitter @pioneer_pride and read his musings online at Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.

Top Storylines

  • A Conference in Considerable Flux – Before MemphisHoustonUCF, and SMU defect to the Big East – which officially makes a geographic mockery of the Big East’s name – C-USA will have one final season together as a full-fledged “upper-level” Division I conference. With only six NCAA Tournament teams and zero NCAA tournament victories in the past three seasons, however, can C-USA muster together a respectable showing for the 2012-13 campaign that doesn’t rival most mid-major conferences? Memphis is the only virtual lock to go dancing, yet several other programs (see MarshallUTEP, and Tulane) are on the rise and could conceivably end up on the right side of the tournament bubble come March. Still, it may be overly optimistic to think C-USA will break the two-team NCAA bid barrier that has eluded the conference since 2005.
  • A Run Towards Perfection – In his fourth season as Memphis’ head coach, Josh Pastner has an opportunity to do something his predecessor, John Calipari, did with apparent ease for three straight seasons prior – have his Tigers run the table in C-USA. With the conference slightly weaker heading into this season (according to Ken Pomeroy), Memphis has a real opportunity to put up a perfect 16-0 regular season mark against their conference foes. It will still prove to be difficult, especially when facing UCF and Marshall twice as part of their unbalanced schedule, yet Memphis returns four starters and is sitting on a potential NBA lottery pick in Adonis Thomas if the 6’7” small forward can stay healthy for much of the season.

Josh Pastner leads a talented home-grown roster in Memphis’ final season in C-USA.

  • Welcoming Back a Legend – Anytime you can hire a head coach with a resume such as the 71-year old Larry Brown, I guess you have to do it, given SMU’s desperation to hire a big name. After all, you’re talking about a guy with an NCAA championship and an NBA championship on his resume. The problem is – aside from his age and inability to coach through the initial contract at his last three destinations – Brown has been away from the college game for nearly 25 years, when he won the 1988 NCAA championship coaching Danny Manning (who, interestingly, is a new C-USA coach himself) and the Kansas Jayhawks. How much can the Mustangs reasonably expect from Brown under these conditions? The cupboard is bare with the graduation of leading scorer and most efficient player, Robert Nyakundi, and the removal of four players including starting point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas, so you have to wonder if Brown will have the patience to stick around long enough to fully rebuild a SMU program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993. One benefit from Brown’s hiring is that he has assembled an impressive coaching staff, which includes the Mustangs possible head-coach-in-waiting in Tim Jankovich.
  • New Coaching Blood – Including Brown, there are four C-USA programs that hired new coaches this offseason, which makes up a whopping one third of the entire league. The most notable new hires are Brown and the aforementioned Danny Manning, who left his assistant post at Kansas in an attempt to push Tulsa out of complacency. Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss) and Jerod Haase (UAB) complete the list of coaches. It will be an uphill battle in season one; research has shown head coaches typically struggle in their first season at their newest destination. Perhaps these men can buck the trend and adapt quickly, although the more likely scenario has some of the league taking advantage and pushing ahead of these rebuilding programs for the time being. Well, maybe except for Rice (more on that later)…

Reader’s Take I


Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Memphis (14-2)
  2. Marshall (12-4)
  3. UTEP (11-5)
  4. UCF (10-6)
  5. UAB (9-7)
  6. Southern Mississippi (8-8)
  7. Tulane (7-9)
  8. East Carolina (7-9)
  9. Houston (6-10)
  10. Tulsa (5-11)
  11. SMU (5-11)
  12. Rice (2-14)
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Welcoming the Big East Newcomers: Houston

Posted by mlemaire on December 8th, 2011

The Big East announced in a teleconference this week that they would be adding five new schools to the fold. Three of those schools, Houston, Central Florida, and Southern Methodist, will play all of their sports in the conference starting in 2013. Of course it is far too early to tell what sort of basketball impact these schools will have in their new conference, but that won’t stop us from pontificating. First up is Houston.

The Past

Of the three schools, there is no question that Houston has the best track record. There first season was in 1946, but it wasn’t until then-assistant and former player Guy Lewis took over for the 1956-57 season until the program really took off. In his 30 years at the helm, Lewis led the Cougars to 27 consecutive winning seasons, 14 trips to the NCAA Tournament, and five trips to the Final Four, including two appearances in the NCAA championship game, both of which they lost. Lewis is also responsible for recruiting some of the school’s most famous alumni, including Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Birdsong and Clyde Drexler.

Hakeem Olajuwon And Clyde Drexler Are The Most Prominent Members Of Houston's Storied Basketball Past

Despite all that history and tradition, Houston has barely been a blip on the college basketball radar since. Since joining Conference USA in 1996, the Cougars have made the NCAA Tournament exactly once (2010), and perhaps the most exciting time for the program was the failed Clyde Drexler coaching experiment that started in 1998 and lasted just two seasons. Former coach Tom Penders led the team to three twenty-win seasons in his six years as head coach from 2004-10, but they never got over the hump. The team still occasionally roped in top-flight talent like Bo Outlaw, Alton Ford, and Aubrey Coleman, but the Cougars never seemed to meet expectations.

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What In The World Is Going On At Providence?

Posted by jstevrtc on July 21st, 2010

Did Keno Davis run over a nun, or something?  Is there a Boston College fan somewhere snickering  sinisterly while poking pins into a Providence College doll?

This past Saturday, Kadeem Batts, a redshirt freshman at Providence, was arrested outside a club on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and failure to leave premises.  He’s still on the team, but it’s not the most confidence-inspiring start, and it’s just another in an improbable string of unfortunate events that have befallen the PC men’s basketball program in recent months.

Back in April, forward Johnnie Lacy and guard James Still, both freshmen, were charged with felony assault in the beating of a PC student.  They’re not just off the team, they’re gone, expelled from the college.  About a month later, sophomore Jamine Peterson — only the team’s leading scorer (19.6 PPG) and rebounder (10.2 RPG) — was dismissed from the squad for violating team rules (not otherwise specified) while hosting a recruit for a weekend.

And then there’s this Joseph Young situation.  In case you’re not familiar, Young is the son of former Houston Cougar and Phi Slamma Jamma member Michael Young, who’s currently the Director of Basketball Operations and Performance Enhancement at the University of Houston.  Last month, Joseph signed a letter of intent to play for Providence as a freshman in the 2010-2011 season.  He changed his mind soon after, citing his concern for an aunt to whom he’s particularly close who is awaiting a heart transplant, and an increased desire to therefore attend school close to home.  He asked Providence for a release from his LOI — and was denied.

At this point, if we were Coach Davis we'd be looking upward for random falling anvils. (AP/H.R. Abrams)

Providence didn’t do this just to be mean, though.  Check it out:  Mr. Young was quickly hired to his current position at Houston (he was also an assistant coach for a year and strength/conditioning coach for five years) after James Dickey was brought on to replace the retired Tom Penders, and Young happens to have a basketball-playing son with some skills.  You can’t blame Providence for at least raising an eyebrow in regard to the timing, here — the elder Young is hired to a new position at the hometown school right at the time the younger Young is about to embark on his college basketball career? With all that Providence has had to deal with recently, you can’t blame them for wanting to hold onto a player for whom they have high hopes, especially if they have reason to think they’re not being given the whole story about that player’s desires to leave.  Providence has stated that they expect Joseph Young to honor his commitment, a lesson it’s never too late to teach (or learn).

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Comings & Goings: Aminu Going Pro; UH Hires Dickey

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

The biggest news in Comings & Goings in the last 24 hours was the announcement from Wake Forest forward Al-Farouq Aminu that he will be leaving the school for the pros this season.  He will hire an agent, which means his Demon Deacon career is over.  Aminu is a versatile 6’8 player who averaged a double-double (16/11) and can play both on the perimeter and in the post.  He is expected to be chosen in the top half of the lottery this year.  Aminu and fellow big men Tony Woods and Ty Walker were part of the highly-rated recruiting class that pressured Wake Forest brass to hire Dino Gaudio three years ago after the sudden death of coach Skip Prosser.  Only Aminu has developed as expected, though.

The University of Houston yesterday announced that they were hiring James Dickey for their vacant head coaching position.  Dickey is best known for his development of the Texas Tech basketball program from a backwater to a 30-2 Sweet Sixteen season in 1996.  Most recently, he was an assistant coach at Oklahoma State until 2008, but he has been out of coaching since then.  UH is taking a bit of a chance with this hire, as Dickey’s Texas Tech program was put on probation in the mid-90s although Dickey himself was never implicated in those violations. 

In other head coaching news, maybe the rumors involving Tubby Smith leaving Minnesota for Oregon, Auburn, or just about anywhere will die down as he said on Thursday the school is working on an extension for him.  Of course, that means virtually nothing even after the ink dries, but if true, it’s at least a signal to potential suitors that Minnesota is willing to pay for Smith’s services.  Kent State’s Geno Ford received a two-year extension yesterday as well.  In just his second year at the school, he led the Golden Flashes to the NIT and won the MAC Coach of the Year award.

 

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